Movie Review: Constantine

I saw Constantine last night. I enjoyed it, but caution Christians that it’s not a “Christian movie,” as there is a lot of violence (most of it demonic CGI), hard drinking, and some profanity.

Constantine is a damned good paranormal troubleshooter. “Damned” because he committed suicide as a teenager and knows the hell that awaits him – having spent two minutes there (which “is a lifetime” in hell) while the doctors revived him. Constantine has been told that because suicide is unforgivable, he is doomed to return. “Good” because he actually has sent many, many of Satan’s minions back to hell. By doing so much good, Constantine hopes that God will have no choice but to let him into heaven. Compounding his problems is that he is dying of lung cancer and has only months to live. He can literally smell the sulpher.

The tools of his trade are holy water, crucifixes, various holy relics, and a healthy dose of Latin. He performs exorcisms, smites “half-breed” demons with holy brass knuckles, and sends Satan’s minions back to hell with a rather massive crucifix hand gun with a cross for its targeting hairs.

According to Constantine, God and Satan made a pact to compete for the souls of man by using influence rather than direct intervention (The Son of God -- Jesus -- is an unexplained exception). Angels and demons are forbidden to do anything other than influence. It’s kind of a cold war between the “two original super powers.” Not quite the biblical balance of power of Christian orthodoxy. To Constantine, this makes God no more than “a kid with an ant farm.” God's restraint becomes all the more troubling because Constantine begins to encounter evidence that the demons are not living up to their end of the bargain (imagine that).

The angel Gabriel, however, does not share Constantine's cynicism towards God. Gabriel acts as a kind of spiritual advisor for Constantine. As Gabriel sees it, God has given mankind the two greatest gifts possible: free will and -- when we mess up -- the ability to obtain forgiveness by just asking for it. It becomes clear as the movie progresses that Gabriel does not think that humanity is really worthy of God’s gifts.

In one of the more memorable dialogues, Gabriel tells Constantine that all his good deeds are not enough, that he must believe in God. When Constantine says he does believe in God, Gabriel corrects him: “No, you know there is a God. You do not believe in Him.”

I can say without giving too much away that Constantine moves more towards Gabriel’s view of God. But will it be enough to save the day? Or himself?

The acting is pretty good. This is one of those roles for which Keanu is well suited. Rachel Weisz is surprisingly effective as a tough but out of her element cop. Tilda Swinton as a somewhat-feminine Gabriel is particularly effective. I wish Gabriel had more screen time because Gabriel's theology, if not attitude, is more God-centric. Interestingly, she plays the White Witch in the upcoming adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The villains are largely computer generated or not all that memorable – except for an interesting characterization of Satan near the end of the movie. The plot is more thoughtful than I expected, and the action a little less. I appreciated the evolution of Constantine’s attitude towards God, as well as the strong suicide-is-abhorrent-to-God theme. For those seeking to get a friend or family member to stop smoking, bring them. The prominent cancer-sticks and vivid depictions of hell should be some good motivation.

It’s not Sunday school, but it is more thoughtful than expected. An enjoyable flick.

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